For those of you currently in the middle of writing your wedding vows, might I suggest including the following: "I vow to never to force you to watch License to Wed against your will ... even if it does look sweeter than a piece of apple pie." Harmless squabbles between two people in love are hard enough to watch when you're one of those people. Well, imagine spending 90 minutes right smack in the middle of someone else's argument -- one that's so trivial and meaningless, the thought of knocking yourself out quickly becomes the best idea you've had in years. And half-way through License to Wed, I imagine everyone involved felt the same way; after a somewhat humorous start and one decent set piece, the film becomes duller than a two-hour PowerPoint presentation on how to pick the right wedding hall. Chock-full of more "seen it" and "done it" moments than the latest Scary Movie entry, do yourself a favor and say "I don't" to License to Wed when it comes time to walk down the aisle at your local cineplex later this weekend.
It's a shame, really, because License to Wed sports a cast capable of way more laughs than this. Making his big-screen debut in a starring role, John Krasinski (The Office) plays Ben Murphy; the type of character Ben Stiller channels in his sleep -- the dim-witted "voice of reason" who can't seem to do or say the right thing no matter what the situation. After a "here's how they got together" montage, Ben proposes to his girlfriend, Sadie (Mandy Moore), and the two are on their way to planning a fantastic wedding. Only problem is Sadie wants to exchange vows in her hometown church under the guidance of Reverend Frank (Robin Williams); the eccentric spiritual leader who baptized her. And with the only available slot three weeks away, Reverend Frank insists the couple attend a rigorous marriage prep course that takes invasion of ones privacy to a level that's not only awkward, but also a tad creepy. Do they have what it takes to keep it cool and stay together long enough to get hitched? Trust me, you won't care.
Come to think of it, did anyone ever care about this film? Unable to truly let loose (perhaps because it might offend some), Robin Williams is as one-note and boring as he's ever been in a comedy. When we first meet him, he's attempting to teach a group of kids the 10 Commandments in a fun, Family Feud-style way ("Starts with coveting, ends with the clap"). It's cute, it's corny, it's typical Williams shtick -- but from there, the powers that be strap a masterlock on his sense of humor and force him to play off an annoying 13 year-old kid (Josh Flitter); a buddy relationship that immediately conjures up the wrong kind of images ... if you know what I mean. The two make it their mission to spy on Ben and Sadie's every move, going so far as to sneak into their apartment and bug the bedroom to ensure they don't have sex before the wedding (one of Reverend Frank's rules). Apart from that, Reverend Frank forces the duo to attend bizarre classes, like "How to Fight with Your Spouse via Screaming," and also makes them carry around two robot devil babies in order to teach them how to be parents.
The robot babies will get laughs, for sure, but then again it's pretty sad when the most entertaining part of the movie rests in the fake hands of two props that poop green stuff. Add to the fact that the screen time for those babies total all of about ten minutes, which means there's still another 82 minutes for the (four!) writers to screw up. Case in point: the last half hour of the film played like it was re-written on the spot, borrowing from a host of other similar movies, while slowly and painfully crawling toward the finish line. Last ditch effort to win back the girl he loves. Check. Guy forced to travel to an unfamiliar location and hitch a ride in the back of a truck filled with locals. Check. You, wondering how and when Jamaica became a third world country, to a point where the only mode of transportation is in the back of a truck full of locals. Check. Girl stares out into the distance, sighs, and wishes things didn't have to be this way. Check. Guy finds out where girl is and performs a totally sweet act of love and kindness. Check. You, smashing your head against a brick wall while the whole sorry situation plays itself out. Triple check.
I guess you can say I should've checked my brain at the door, but what do you do when the filmmakers checked theirs and never returned to pick it back up? I expected better comedic moments from director Ken Kwapis, who's mastered the art of subtle humor on The Office, and did a pretty good job adapting The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants , but never quite found a way to transition away from the small screen. His last notable feature directorial effort prior to Traveling Pants was Dunston Checks In, to give you an idea of where he used to hang out. But there's no live animals to get him laughs this time; instead, he's stuck with a good supporting cast (on paper) who were never given the opportunity to stretch. DeRay Davis plays Ben's obligatory marriage-hatin' best friend, who's two manaical kids and nagging wife are there to show Ben exactly what he's signing up for. Har Har. Christine Taylor shows up as Sadie's older, divorced and borderline alcoholic sister; a role that had a lot of potential if the writers were to have spiced it up. Surely Grace Zabriskie would steal scenes as Sadie's bitter grandma? Try again.
But that's the problem -- they can't try again. They can't have a do-over. If a marriage is in trouble, folks have a lot of different options at their disposal; like therapy, literature and the always-reliable vacation. If a movie is bad, or heading in that direction, all we can do is shut one eye and brace ourselves for impact. And that's what it feels like to watch License to Wed; a laugh turns into a chuckle, and before you know it you're smiling -- not because of what's on screen -- but because you're recalling the different ways in which you were somehow tricked into paying money to see this film. It can't have anything to do with Mandy Moore's recent track record (for those counting, License to Wed is her second bomb in a row behind Because I Said So). John Krasinski may soon become the next Ben Stiller, and Robin Williams is definitely allowed a sour performance here and there, but it's films like this that remind me how cookie-cutter, play-it-safe comedies are in desperate need of a makeover. If you want to be annoyed for an hour and a half, pick a fight with your significant other over the remote control. Or, you can pay 10 bucks to see License to Wed. Same experience, same outcome -- except one is a lot cheaper than the other. You decide.